Laughing At Ourselves

Through the years, the town of Westport has both been home to actors and directors as well as the backdrop for both the big and small screen. Films like The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit from 1956 and 2018’s Land of Steady Habits used Westport as a foil to explore hidden themes of the somber side of suburban life. Outside of town cameos, The Westport Historical Society has had its own share of roles as “character actor.” Happily, our parts have largely been of the comic sort. It may come as a surprise to many but at Westport Historical Society we like nothing better than to laugh at ourselves. Stop by on any given day and  what you’ll notice after you enjoy our eye-opening new exhibits, engaging programs and newly renovated gift shop is the fun banter, the laughter and general high spirits. Even though we’re always working hard to fulfill our mission in the best 21st century style, we have a lot of fun too. We take our mission very seriously. Ourselves? Not so much. (Anyone who follows our Instagram account Betsy_and_Sam will tell you that.) That’s why nobody is getting a bigger laugh at the current send up of the Society (Rebranded as the “Westport Historical Guild”) on ABC’s hit comedy, American Housewife. A regular feature of the current (and past seasons) the “Guild” is a passion of the main character’s husband, Greg who is ever at the ready for a re-enactment or an onion pie baking contest (an homage to the town’s onion farming history.) Certainly, the Guild’s denizens are over the top. One member has a humidor especially for his 18th century pantaloons collection. Others engage in a friendly game of “mead pong” at the Guild’s annual gala in a barn that looks suspiciously like …

The Forgotten of Main Street

“We the undersigned residents of 22 ½ Main street, respectfully petition the town government to help us secure decent, low-rent housing for ourselves and our families.” As reported by the Westport Town Crier on December 22nd 1949, these words formed a petition from the residents of the building which housed 70 people including four WWII veterans which was presented to the Westport Board of Selectmen. In honor of Black History Month, we will look into the plight of the residents of 22 ½ Main Street. These residents made up the lion’s share of Westport’s African-American population, many of whom had been in the community since the 18th century when their ancestors were enslaved. The building at 22 ½ Main Street was the epicenter of a neighborhood that existed in alleyways between Elm Street and Main street with “1/2” numbers for their street addresses. The residents of 22 ½ Main Street represented citizens originally from the South who had come north to communities like Westport to seek work in what later became known as the Great Migration. It was a community that fought to survive in the heart of Westport, despite those who sought to exile them. The Town Crier reported that 70 people were living at 22 ½ Main Street, and just a few months earlier in March, a doctor who had been sent to the housing complex reported that he found 24 people living in 25 rooms. Dr. C. W. Gillette had been assigned to ascertain whether the complex were the source of a public health menace by First Selectman Albert T. Scully. It seems that “concerned citizens” of the town were worried about overcrowding and unsightly conditions in the courtyard off Main Street. The town prosecutor’s office initiated complaints via a declaration of violations which stated that “a …